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Seagate embraces SSHDs, phasing out 7,200rpm laptop HDDs

Seagates demos its third-gen hybrid drive at CES 2013 and aims to replace all high-end laptop hard drives with hybrid drives.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
3 min read

Seagate's SSHD showcased at CES 2013. Dong Ngo/CNET

LAS VEGAS--You might want to stockpile Seagate 7,200rpm laptop hard drives now. Soon they will be no more.

Or maybe you shouldn't. From what I've witnessed at CES 2013, what Seagate plans to replace them with is going to be much better. That's the company's third generation of hybrid drive, a type of drive that's now being referred to across the industry as a solid-state hybrid drive, or SSHD.

For many years a hard drive's spinning speed was the factor that determined how fast an internal drive is. That's not necessarily true anymore with the proliferation of solid-state drives (SSDs).

But SSDs have their shortcomings, including the very high cost, the low storage space, and the limited P/E cycles. For that reason, going hybrid seems like the right approach for the industry.

Just two years ago, Seagate's first hybrid drive, the Momentus XT, was the only hybrid drive on the market. Now there are many ultrabooks that use an mSATA SSD and a hard drive in combination, powered by Intel's Smart Response Technology. WD now also has its own SSHDs, and even Apple has jumped in the pool with its recently announced Fusion Drive.

Fusion Drive may be a misleading name since it combines two separate drives, one SSD and one regular hard drive, which work in tandem under Mac OS 10.8. This provides an SSD-like experience while still offering large amounts of storage space. Fusion Drive works entirely at the OS level, however, and, like Intel's, is a hybrid approach. This generally is much more expensive than SSHD.

A demo showing a PlayStation 3 that's using an SSHD (left) to load the game Dragon Age: Origins more than twice as fast as the other, which is using a stock hard drive.
A demo showing a PlayStation 3 that's using an SSHD (left) to load the game Dragon Age: Origins more than twice as fast as the other, which is using a stock hard drive. Dong Ngo/CNET

That said, an SSHD is a true hybrid drive in which solid-state and spinning platter-based drives are combined in one drive of a standard design. Seagate's SSDH comes with 8GB of solid-state memory and offers, for now, up to 1TB of storage space for the 2.5-inch design.

While there were no final products to announce this year at CES, Seagate showcased its prototype drives: one 5mm-thick drive, one 7mm-thick SSHD, and the first SSHD to come in the shape of a 3.5-inch (desktop) drive, which offers up to 4TB. The company also did demoes to show off how much faster its SSDH is than other hybrid drives and SSDs on the market.

The demos showed that Seagate's new SSHDs are almost as fast as SSDs in many cases and are much faster than a 7,200rpm hard drive.

The interesting thing about Seagate SSHDs is that the hard drive part of them only spins at 5,400rpm. However, thanks to the algorithm that automatically puts frequently accessed data on the solid-state part, the drive can offer much faster real speed than drives spinning at 7,200rpm.

In a demo with two PlayStation 3 game consoles, the one powered by an SSHD loaded the game Dragon Age: Origins, which takes a notoriously long time to load, more than twice as fast as the one using a stock hard drive.

According to Seagate Product Marketing Director David Burks, phasing out the 7,200rpm laptop hard drive helps Seagate focus more on its SSHD as the new high-speed drive. Also using 5,400rpm in SSHDs means lower prices, and in fact when they become available, later this year, SSHDs will cost just about $10 to $20 more than hard drives of the same capacity.